RICKEY DIDN'T LOSE that number. Not the single-season stolen-base record of 130.
Nor does Rickey Henderson, Man of Steal, figure to lose any of the other major league-record numbers that the most prolific leadoff hitter of all time compiled during a 25-year career with the A's, Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres, Angels, Mets, Mariners, Red Sox and Dodgers. Not anytime soon, if ever.
Not the career record of 1,406 stolen bases that he slid into retirement with in 2003. On May 1, 1991, Henderson broke Lou Brock's record with No. 939. In typically understated Rickey being Rickey fashion, the A's outfielder unfastened the base from its moorings and held it aloft. Then he proceeded to steal 467 more bases over the final 12 years of his career. That 1,406 final total has probably become baseball's most unbreakable record.
To put some perspective on it: OK, twinkle-toes, you're 20 years old and you just made "The Show" after breaking all the minor league stolen-base records. You brashly announce that your goal is to break Rickey Henderson's career stolen base record.
Here's all you'll have to do:
Average 70 steals a year for the next 20 years. That will get you to 1,400. At age 40, some club will give you the chance to add the seven more it will take to break the record.
But the reason for stealing all those bases beside the obvious "Because I could" is to score runs. Rickey crossed home plate 2,295 times - more than anybody in the cockeyed history of the game - and 81 of those were scored at the end of another Henderson career record: Most home runs leading off games (81). He sends apologies that the best he could manage in drawing walks was the No. 2 all-time total of 2,190. And how about his astounding career number of just a 5 percent difference between his career walks and runs scored?
Rickey is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, joining a 2009 class that has been whittled to a mere 14 holdovers and nine fellow first-timers. He stands out like Sinatra at an "American Idol" audition.
Nobody has ever achieved unanimous election by the Baseball Writers Association of America. There were 543 ballots cast last December and reliever Goose Gossage was the only one who received the 75 percent required for enshrinement. His 466 votes represented 85.8 percent.
With so many eligible electors representing a myriad of agendas and eras, there always will be a handful of writers with an ax to grind, an agenda to further or a political statement to make. The political statement against the suspected anabolic-steroid use by slugger Mark McGwire resulted in just 23.6 percent support in last winter's balloting. It is a gathering storm that will impact both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens when they are presented to the BBWAA a few years down the road.
In 1936, National League president Ford Frick asked the BBWAA to elect the first class to a Hall of Fame he had proposed with the support of commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The players who received the required 75 percent were, in order of support, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Cobb and Ruth failing to gain unanimous support created an instant controversy and a small number of writers vowed to never vote for any player making his first appearance on the ballot, not after the exclusion of the two greatest position players in the history of the Pastime. Four of 226 electors failed to vote for Cobb, 11 for Ruth. Since then, Tom Seaver came closest, missing on just five of 430 ballots in 1992. The last 1936 refusenik passed away several years ago, but there has not been a candidate of megastar marquee value in recent years to see if there has been a shift in the 100 percent wind.
Rickey Henderson is the star with that kind of clout. His high "jerk factor" is not enough for any writer to be able to say, "I'm not gonna vote for that jerk." In addition to his obvious skills, the guy flat loved to play and was headfirst sliding in the Atlantic League as recently as 2005, hoping a big-league club would be looking for a utilityman who still had above-average speed at Jamie Moyer's age.
I learned a hard lesson in 1999, the year Nolan Ryan fell six votes short of unanimity. Don't know what the other five guys were thinking and don't care. But I was making a dumb political statement that had nothing to do with Nolan Ryan. I was trying to make a point that because Don Sutton had missed the magic 75 percent his first three elections with the same number of wins as Ryan in fewer seasons, there was no urgency to elect Ryan on the first ballot, either.
I still get 50 e-mails a year referencing me - quite correctly, I now agree - as the dumb bleep who didn't vote for Nolan Ryan.
Yep, that was my bad. And that well-intended but seriously misguided "statement" was foremost in my thoughts yesterday morning when I checked Rickey Henderson on a ballot that included holdovers Jim Rice (last chance), Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven. *
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